The origins of honey and beekeeping go back millennia. The practice is depicted on papyrus records and scenes painted or inscribed on ancient Egyptian temple walls. Raising bees was not restricted to the Mediterranean region. The Aztecs were also fond of honey, enjoying it for breakfast in a chocolate beverage made with hot chili peppers and vanilla. What’s more, Amerindian peoples boiled their corn with added honey and Chinese writings from the 16th century BC also mention beekeeping. In addition to its use as a food or condiment, honey has been used since the days of antiquity as a skin cream and a dressing for wounds.
Depending on the species of flower visited by the bees, honey has a specific aroma, flavour and colour. Quebec is home to a number of types of honey, notably clover (1), wildflower (2), blueberry (3), raspberry (4), goldenrod (5), linden (6), apple (7), buckwheat (8) and dandelion (9).
Honey is classified on a scale from 1 to 3, with 1 being the best quality, based on criteria that include its water content, absence of foreign substances and flavour. The honey commonly sold at the supermarket is generally No. 1 grade, while lesser grades are normally used in commercially produced foods.
Honey is also classified by colour: white, golden, amber or dark. Honey’s colour depends on the species of flower the bees frequent. In general, the lighter a honey is in colour, the milder and sweeter its flavour, while a dark honey will have a more pronounced taste.
The fossil record tells us that bees have been around for over 40 million years. Though ancient, bees are a highly evolved species of insect with well-developed senses. Their eyes detect multiple colours including black, white, yellow, blue, blue-green and violet, but not the colour red.
The domesticated bee (Apis Mellifera) is an insect with a hairy body and narrow waist. Bee society is made up of 3 distinct groups:
Honey, of course, is made from the nectar found in flowers. Flying from blossom to blossom, the bees harvest the sweet nectar which they deposit in the individual cells in the hive. With the help of air circulation caused by the flapping of the bees’ wings, the nectar turns into the thick sweet liquid we call honey.
The bees stockpile honey to serve as a reserve food supply. It takes 7000 bee-hours of work to produce 500g of honey! The average hive produces about 40 kg of honey a year. Quebec beekeepers harvest the honey usually twice a year, once at the end of June and once at the beginning of September.